Brett M. Kavanaugh proved himself unfit to serve on the Supreme Court.
It has little to do with his treatment of women.
Kavanaugh’s freshman-year roommate at Yale had told The New Yorker that the future Supreme Court nominee could become “aggressive “and “belligerent” when drunk. But, as millions have now seen with their own eyes, he is aggressive and belligerent when stone-cold sober.
His testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday was a howl of partisan rage. He said the behavior of Democrats on the committee was “an embarrassment” and “a good old-fashioned attempt at Borking.” He said they were “lying in wait” with “false, last-minute smears.”
The proceedings were, he said, “a national disgrace,” a “circus,” a “grotesque and coordinated character assassination” and a “search and destroy” mission. He blamed Democrats for threats against his family, “to blow me up and take me down.”
“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election,” he said, “… revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”
Kavanaugh shouted and scowled, sniffed and wept, turned the pages of his text as if swatting insects and thumped the witness table. Gone was the nominee who two weeks ago preached judicial modesty. Gone was the man who on Monday spoke to Fox News about fairness and integrity and dignity and respect.
On Thursday afternoon, after his main accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, gave such compelling testimony that even Republican senators described her favorably, Kavanaugh ripped off the mask — or the robe, as it were — and revealed himself to be the man he was when, as a lieutenant to Kenneth Starr in the 1990s, he proposed to hit President Bill Clinton with a sexually vulgar line of questioning.
He mocked his Democratic questioners. Asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, about his drinking, Kavanaugh shot back: “I like beer. I don’t know if you do. Do you like beer, senator, or not? What do you like to drink? Senator, what do you like to drink?”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, mentioning her father’s alcoholism, asked whether Kavanaugh had ever blacked out. “I don’t know. Have you?” he responded. Pressed, he replied, “Yeah, and I’m curious if you have.” He later apologized.
Kavanaugh had cast aside judicial restraint for fury and ridicule. Perhaps he figured his nomination was doomed, and his scorched-earth testimony was a parting shot. Or perhaps he calculated that he could only salvage his prospects by making the fight about partisan warfare rather than sexual assault.
Except that it isn’t. If Kavanaugh isn’t confirmed it will be because of Republican votes from the likes of Sens. Susan Collins of Maine or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have expressed concern about the allegations. Polling shows plunging support for Kavanaugh among Republican women. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee — all men — were concerned enough about appearances to hire a female prosecutor to question Ford; this produced frivolous lines of questioning about whether she’s really afraid of flying and who paid for her polygraph.
Fighting Ford’s sexual-assault allegation on the merits was difficult to sustain. Ford seemed credible, and Kavanaugh, like committee Republicans, was reluctant to have the FBI investigate her claims (he derided “phony” questioning on the topic). Kavanaugh was reluctant for the committee to hear from the alleged eyewitness, and he acknowledged that he sometimes drank “too many beers” (how many? “whatever the chart says”) and hadn’t blacked out but had “gone to sleep” and vomited from drinking.
Eventually, Republican senators jettisoned their distaff mercenary and joined with Kavanaugh in his attempt to cast the fight as partisan. “The most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics,” shouted Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas called the proceedings the most “embarrassing scandal for the United States Senate since the McCarthy hearings.”
But this required accepting Kavanaugh’s word that the accusations are variously “a joke,” “a farce,” “crazy,” “nonsense,” “refuted” or with “no corroboration.”
Maybe so. Maybe he doesn’t remember. But this we know: Kavanaugh’s response revealed him to be a political hack more than a jurist. “Your coordinated and well-funded effort to destroy my good name and to destroy my family will not drive me out,” he told the Democrats, threatening them that “what goes around comes around.”
Partisanship and revenge fantasies: Exactly what we don’t need on the Supreme Court.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.